From a speech delivered by Ted Koppel to the International Radio and Television Society in New York City last October, upon receiving its "Broadcaster of the Year" award.
I don't know what's happened to our standards. I fear that we in the mass media are creating such a market for mediocrity that we've diminished the incentive for excellence. We celebrate notoriety as though it were an achievement. Fame has come to mean being recognized by more people who don't know anything about you. In politics, we have encouraged the displacement of thoughtfulness by the artful cliche.
Which brings me to my own profession, indeed, my very own job and that of several of my distinguished colleagues here. Overestimated, overexposed-and by reasonable comparison with any job outside sports and entertainment, overpaid. I am a television news anchor-role model for Miss America contestants and tens of thousands of university students in search of a degree without an education. How does one live up to the admiration of those who regard the absence of an opinion as objectivity or (even more staggering to the imagination) as courage?
How does one grapple with a state of national confusion that celebrates questions over answers? How does one explain or, perhaps more relevant, guard against the influence of an industry which is on the verge of becoming a hallucinogenic barrage of images, whose only grammar is pacing, whose principal theme is energy?
We are losing our ability to manage ideas; to contemplate, to think. We are in a constant race to be first with the obvious. We are becoming a nation of electronic voyeurs whose capacity for dialogue is a fading memory, occasionally jolted into reflective life by a one-liner: "New ideas." "Where's the beef?" "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." "Window of vulnerability." "Freeze now." "Born again." "Gag me with a spoon." "Can we talk?"
No, but we can relate. Six-year-olds want to be stewardesses. Eight-year-olds want to be pilots. Nineteen-year-olds want to be anchorpersons. Grown-ups want to be left alone, to interact in solitary communion with the rest of our electronic global village.
Consider this paradox: Almost everything that is publicly said these days is recorded. Almost nothing of what is said is worth remembering. And what do we remember? Thoughts that were expressed hundreds or even thousands of years ago by philosophers, thinkers, and prophets whose ideas and principles were so universal that they endured without videotape or film, without the illustrations or photographs or cartoons-in many instances even without paper, and for thousands of years without the easy duplication of the printing press.
What is largely missing in American life today is a sense of context, of saying or doing anything that is intended or even expected to live beyond the moment. There is no culture in the world that is so obsessed as ours with immediacy. In our journalism, the trivial displaces the momentous because we tend to measure the importance of events by how recently they happened. We have become so obsessed with facts that we have lost all touch with truth.
As broadcast journalists, it's easy to be seduced into believing that what we're doing is just fine; after all, we get money, fame, and to a certain degree even influence. But money, fame, and influence without responsibility are the assets of a courtesan. We must accept responsibility for what we do, and we must think occasionally of the future.
Harper’s Magazine, January 1986